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Election heats up as ballots go out and ads go up

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Oregon Capital Bureau

Many Oregonians will have a possible attention grabber in the mailbox within days: their ballot.

Wednesday is when the first ballots will go in the mail for the May 17 primary election, a process that must be completed no later than May 3. Ballots cast could be coming back to county clerks as early as this weekend.

“Things are heating up — it’s exciting that after so many months, people will get to vote,” said Jessica LaVigne, campaign manager for Tobias Read, the state treasurer running for governor in the Democratic primary.

The open governor’s seat is one of the top ballot battlegrounds. The 19 Republicans and 15 Democrats on the ballot will be reduced to one per party after votes are counted on May 17.

Party nominees for two hotly contested open congressional seats will be decided, while a third seat in the U.S. House has drawn a strong challenge.

All 60 state House seats and more than half of 30 senate seats will be on the ballot. Only a handful have close primary fights, with the real impact coming in November when voters will decide if Democrats’ supermajorities in both chambers go up or down.

With closed primaries, only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in each party’s ballot for partisan races.

The commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries is on all ballots, because the office is officially non-partisan. 

Websites and television stations are already becoming saturated with political ads in some areas.

Former House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, is the highest-ranking Democrat running against Read in the race for governor.

Kotek ads pop up in between most YouTube videos accessed in Democratic-heavy Eugene.

While less ubiquitous, the biggest fundraisers in the Republican race for governor are also hitting screens big and small around the state.

Ads from former Oregon Republican Party chair Bob Tiernan, former House Minority Leader Christin Drazan, R-Canby, and Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam cast state government as out-of-touch or inept and stake their claim to be the first GOP candidate to win a governor’s race since 1982. 

A common theme with variations of intensity and sharp language is put forward in a more gentle manner by 2016 GOP nominee for governor Bud Pierce, whose ads promise that he will make Oregon “sane, secure and stable” again  

In Sunriver this weekend, Democrats will meet for the Oregon Summit, the top gathering of the partisan troops. It comes one week after Republicans met in Clackamas County, near Mount Hood.

The conference had been postponed earlier in the year because of COVID-19 concerns. With reports Tuesday that Vice-President Kamala Harris and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, have separately tested positive for the virus, the Democrats’ political messaging will compete with pandemic news involving two of their top nationally known leaders.

Attempts to lead a daily news cycle with an orderly roll out of a political agenda at a conference can be interrupted by the unexpected. Take it from Republicans.

Last Saturday, the key day of the Dorchester Conference in Clackamas County, state political news was crowded by President Joe Biden endorsing the re-election bid of U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby.

“We don’t always agree, but when it has mattered most, Kurt has been there for me,” Biden said in a statement Saturday.

The endorsement put Biden at odds with four of the five county Democratic committees in the 5th Congressional District.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Terrebonne won the endorsement of the Deschutes, Clackamas, Marion and Linn County Democratic party groups. The fifth — Multnomah County — has not endorsed in the 5th Congressional District race.

McLeod-Skinner has said a major reason for her insurgent bid was what she and other Democratic progressives have called out as Schrader’s inconsistent and tepid support for Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan.

Democrats backing McLeod-Skinner dismissed the endorsement as a necessary nod to party cohesion in the closely-divided House.

But Biden’s endorsement is sure to be rolled out when Schrader makes a scheduled appearance in Sunriver with the other three Democrats in the Oregon delegation to the U.S. House.

Another race forcing Democrats to choose sides is the new 6th congressional district. Political newcomer Carrick Flynn has received $7 million from billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of a Bahamas-based cryptocurrency exchange.

Democratic party infighting really took off when Flynn received $1 million from a political action committee tied to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to Flynn’s campaign.

The crowded Democrat field includes Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, and Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, two of the highest-ranking Latina officeholders in the state. Former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, who is Black, is also in the race.

The sudden support by the Pelosi-backed PAC for Flynn drew the ire of U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, who broke his neutral position to call out Flynn’s fundraising.

“I haven’t endorsed in this race, but it’s flat-out wrong for House Majority PAC to be weighing in when we have multiple strong candidates vying for the nomination,” Merkley wrote on Twitter.

Progressive Democrats have also groused about the late departure of incumbent U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, in the 4th Congressional District. DeFazio waited until redistricting maps had passed all legal hurdles in the Oregon Supreme Court before announcing he wouldn’t run in 2022.

Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle quickly ditched her re-election campaign to jump into the congressional race and was soon after endorsed by DeFazio.

Only a fraction of the candidates on the ballot will survive the culling of candidates in the primary to move on to the general election on Nov. 8.

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